EXCLUSIVE: I’ve learned that actor James Gandolfini died suddenly in Italy after a suspected heart attack. He was 51. Gandolfini will be forever known for his portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano on the seminal HBO series The Sopranos, which won him three Emmy Awards. Chris Albrecht who greenlighted the crime family saga at HBO and gave Gandolfini his start, just emailed Deadline’s Nikki Finke: “Absolutely stunned. I got the word from Lorraine Bracco and just got off with Brad Grey who had just heard from David Chase. We had all become a family. This is a tremendous loss.” Grey was the executive producer and Chase the creator of The Sopranos. Overweight, balding, with a thick New York accent, Gandolfini was the opposite of a marquee leading man and yet he proved through his masterful acting that he could make Tony Soprano sexy and smart. Gandolfini remained in business with HBO starring in film Cinema Verite and executive producing Hemingway & Gellhorn. He was set to topline a new limited series for HBO, Criminal Justice, one of several projects he had in the works. Gandolfini was most recently seen in the features The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Zero Dark Thirty. MORE
EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has set Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum to direct Ghostman, an adaptation of the bestselling Roger Hobbs novel. Tyldum is best known for directing an adaptation of the Jo Nesbo novel Headhunters, which led him to be hired to helm The Imitation Game, which Graham Moore wrote for Benedict Cumberbatch to star as Alan Turing. Peter Craig adapted Ghostman, a phrase that refers to a professional who cleans up messes and helps fugitives disappear. He is careful but gets sucked into a casino heist gone terribly wrong. His former mentor bankrolled the casino heist, which left several dead, and a crack addict in the wind with $1 million in cash that was supposed to pay off a drug debt. The Ghostman finds himself in a race over 48 hours to clean up the mess or his mentor will be in the cross hairs of a ruthless drug kingpin called The Wolf, and there is an attractive CIA agent in the center of things. The film’s being produced by Kevin McCormick’s Langley Park. Warner Bros bought the novel for McCormick last year.
EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has hired Jeremy Lott to write The Falling, a supernatural thriller that has Zac Efron attached to star. Akiva Goldsman and his Weed Road are producing with Safehouse’s Joby Harold and Tory Tunnell and Efron, Jason Barrett and Michael Simkin through Efron’s Ninja’s Runnin’ Wild banner. Lott co-wrote Lore with Black List scribe Cory Goodman, a script that Warner Bros bought for seven figures with Dwayne Johnson attached to star. Lott is repped by Paradigm, Aperture Entertainment’s Adam Goldworm and Bloom Hergott.
EXCLUSIVE: Eli Roth’s thriller/horror series Hemlock Grove has received a second-season renewal by Netflix. Seasoned showrunner Charles H. (Chic) Eglee (The Walking Dead, Dexter) is joining the series, which will return with 10 original episodes next year. Based on Brian McGreevy’s gothic horror novel of the same name, Hemlock Grove, produced by Gaumont International Television, stars Famke Janssen and Bill Skarsgård and explores the strange happenings in a small Pennsylvania town. The series launched its entire 13-episode first season on April 19 to mixed reviews but strong interest from viewers, with Netflix announcing at that time that the series was “viewed by more members globally in its first weekend than was House Of Cards and has been a particular hit among young adults.” Hemlock Grove‘s popularity with the the younger set helped the show land a second-season renewal just as the options on the actors were set to expire. “The worldwide fan response to Hemlock Grove was phenomenal” said executive producer Roth. “Netflix members loved the potent combination of sexy monsters, mystery, and the dark family soap opera that ended with a huge twist, leaving audiences worldwide totally shocked. Season One was just a warm up for what we have in store for season two. Get ready to be scared in ways you never expected.” Landon Liboiron, Freya Tingley and Dougray Scott co-star on the series, which will begin production on Season 2 later this year.
EXCLUSIVE: There was no press release announcing his hiring this February. And his official bio doesn’t mention his VHS titles like Playboy: The Best of Anna Nicole Smith. But it’s certainly surprising that Vicangelo Bullock who’s currently the Managing Director for the new position of Outreach and Strategic Initiatives at the prestigious Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences used to be a soft porn producer, director, and writer. It’s especially shocking to the various Academy Governors with whom I spoke and who told me they didn’t know anything about his background. His AMPAS hiring coincided with the Academy’s big push spearheaded by CEO Dawn Hudson to focus more on diversity inside and outside the organization and for membership. AMPAS could not provide me with a description of Bulluck’s current job but he is listed high up on the roster of Academy administration in 6th place of importance. An AMPAS executive who asked not to be identified insisted to me that Bulluck’s soft porn past did not come as a surprise to the Academy and said, “We knew this when he was hired. It absolutely gave people pause. But he had enough recent references and great relationships. Besides, he was doing that producing 20 years ago. He was a struggling filmmaker.”
But I’ve learned from insiders that Bulluck prominently displayed his previous non-profit job as Executive Director of the Hollywood Bureau of the NAACP on the impressive resume he submitted to the Academy at the NAACP, but he deliberately left off his 10-year soft porn credits. ”And when concerned female employees brought this issue to management, they confronted him,” a source tells me. “He said, ‘If it was OK with the NAACP, I thought it’d be OK with you.’ Did he get fired for withholding info on his resume? No. Now there’s a porn producer at the Academy!” I’m told that, when Kimberly Congdon, the Managing Director of Human Resources at AMPAS, was asked why she didn’t simply search IMDB for Bulluck’s credits before he was hired, she replied, “What’s the IMDB?”
Indeed, a search of IMDB for Bullock’s credits show a prolific list of soft porn VHS titles ranging in dates from 1992 through 2000 and including Playboy: Sisters, Playboy: The Best of Anna Nicole Smith, Playboy: The Best of Jenny McCarthy, Playboy: The Best of Pamela Anderson, Playboy Girls of Radio: Talk, Rock and Shock, Playboy: Fabulous Forties, Playboy: Women of Color and Playboy’s Playmate Bloopers. There’s also a director credit for a 1996 Playboy Home Video sexploitation film called Jane Street. Bulluck by all accounts was good at his craft:
EXCLUSIVE: All it took was a single taping for ReelzChannel to pull the plug on its new weekly series The Big Picture. The entertainment talk show co-hosted by So You Think You Can Dance and Good Day LA alum Lauren Sanchez and ex-Telemundo host Alex Cambert filmed June 13 at the network’s studio in Albuquerque. But things went so disastrously that execs were talking cancellation by Friday. They made the decision final on Monday. “It just didn’t play well,” Reelz CEO Stan E. Hubbard told Deadline. “We had high hopes for it.” An inside source blames co-host Cambert for causing on-set friction. According to Hubbard, there was indeed “bad chemistry” on set in what he describes as “not a good team effort.” Both Cambert and Sanchez were exec producers on the show. While Reelz’s working relationship with the duo is officially over, Hubbard thinks Sanchez will resurface on the network on another project. “She is a treat to work with, and I’m sure we’ll find something to do with her in the future,” he said. Reelz, meanwhile, is focusing on its new Beverly Hills Pawn series and the premiere of November’s docu JFK: The Smoking Gun.
Charlie Ergen’s Dish Network has been playing two games at once with Sprint Nextel: a bidding war with SoftBank for the entire company, while also attempting to acquire Sprint’s stake in spectrum-holder Clearwire. Missing today’s Sprint-imposed deadline to counter SoftBank doesn’t mean Dish can’t still bid on the No. 2 mobile services provider, but the company says it will “focus our efforts and resources on completing the Clearwire tender offer.” Dish has offered $4.40 a share for Sprint’s Clearwire stake as the satellite provider seeks to amass spectrum rights to launch its own wireless broadband network.
EXCLUSIVE: Cillian Murphy jas joined the cast of In The Heart Of The Sea, the Ron Howard-directed adaptation of the Nathaniel Philbrick book for Warner Bros and Village Roadshow Pictures. Brian Grazer is producing with Joe Roth, Paula Weinstein and William Ward, with Palak Patel exec producing. Murphy will play Matthew Joy, second mate on the whale ship Essex. Citing reports of cannibals in the Society Islands, Joy and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) convince first time Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) to sail to South America after an enraged sperm whale rams and sinks the Essex, leaving 21 crew members adrift in small boats, 3,000 miles from land. The film begins shooting around London in mid-September.
Murphy is currently at work on Wally Pfister’s Transcendence with Johnny Depp in New Mexico. He wrapped Cry/Fly, an indie opposite Jennifer Connelly and Mélanie Laurent and this fall stars in Peak Blinders, a six-part miniseries for the BBC about the Shelby gang in 1920s Birmingham. He’ll next be seen in Broken, the British Independent Film Award-winning drama he stars in with Tim Roth, with Film Movement releasing in July in the U.S. Murphy is repped by CAA, the Lisa Richards Agency, Lou Coulson Associates and attorney David Weber.
FX is quickly turning into the exclusive network partner of Lionsgate for its 10-90 sitcoms. The cable network has picked up a third series from Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury and Lionsgate TV, a buddy comedy starring Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence. The marquee project, written/executive produced by comedy veterans Bob Boyett and Robert Horn, features Grammer and Lawrence as Chicago lawyers from vastly different backgrounds who develop a partnership after they unexpectedly meet in court on the worst day of their lives, forcing each other to find the balance between the ethical and the unscrupulous in both their professional and personal lives. FX has picked up 10 episodes of the untitled series which, in success, will be followed by a 90-episode back order.
The Grammer-Lawrence project came together pretty quickly. Debmar-Mercury had been talking to Lawrence about headlining a 10/90 vehicle when sibling Lionsgate TV approached them about doing a comedy with Grammer, who had a deal at the studio stemming from the Emmy winner’s involvement in the Lionsgate TV-produced Starz drama Boss. I hear it was Debmar-Mercury co-president Ira Bernstein who came up with the idea to pair the two stars. “Martin is arguably one of the funniest men alive and after some success in drama I thought it might be time …
Prime Focus already has a global footprint with offices in the LA, NY, Canada, the UK and India. That makes it more immune to the problems American-based VXF firms like Rhythm & Hues have had sustaining a viable business model (Prime Focus was one of four companies in the running in the R&H bankruptcy auction eventually won by another global firm, India-based Prana Studios). In March, Prime Focus announced a Chinese joint venture with Hong Kong–based private equity group AID Partners and local partner Zhejiang Jingqi Wenhua Chuanbo Co to invest $3M in a new operation that will provide 2D/3D conversion, VFX and postproduction services on the mainland and in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Its recent credits included stereo VFX, 3D conversion and archive footage colorization work on Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Here’s today’s release out of the Shanghai International Film Festival announcing the Beijing opening:
Free Birds tells the tale of two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks who must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history – and get turkey off the Thanksgiving menu for good. The stellar voice cast includes Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson Amy Poehler, Dan Fogler, Lesley Nicol, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Keith David, Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo, and Dwight Howard. Jimmy Hayward directs and Scott Mosier, John Strauss and David I. Stern produce. Hayward and Mosier wrote the screenplay based on Strauss and Stern’s story. The pic from Relativity and Reel FX bows wide on November 1. Check out the trailer:
Showtime has put in development a single-camera, half-hour comedy project executive produced by singer John Legend and his manager, Atom Factory’s Troy Carter. Written by Austin Winsberg (Gossip Girl) and produced by Universal Cable Prods., the project takes place in the world of high-profile music managers. It will draw on the music business experience of both Legend and Carter, the founder/chairman/CEO of Atom Factory, an entertainment management company where he also manages Lady Gaga. Legend, Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius executive produce through their Get Lifted Film Co., which has a pod deal with UCP, along with Carter and Winsberg. Legend has a long-standing relationship with Showtime. Last year, he did a music special which was in series consideration at the pay cable network and performed at Showtime’s pre-Emmy party. Winsberg, who wrote upcoming musical First Date, is repped by CAA, Trevor Engelson at Underground, and Warren Dern; Get Lifted is with CAA and Nina Shaw and Abel Lezcano.
Michael Cera plays an American expat road tripping with three Chilean brothers in Crystal Fairy, one of two Chile-set Sundance 2013 debuts starring Cera and directed by Sebastián Silva. (Their other film, Magic Magic, hits home video August 6 via Sony.) Gaby Hoffman co-stars as a free spirit who unexpectedly joins the group’s quest to find a legendary hallucinogenic cactus. Sundance Selects has set a July 12 limited theatrical release. Watch the trailer here:http://www.vimg.net/streaming/deadline/crystalfairy-tlr1_h480p.mp4
EXCLUSIVE: Sam Taylor-Johnson, whose directorial debut was 2009′s Nowhere Boy about the early life of John Lennon, has been secured to direct Fifty Shades Of Grey, the sizzling novel adaptation from Universal Pictures and Focus Features. Fellow Brit Kelly Marcel has written the script for the movie, based on EL James’ bestseller that follows the relationship between 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey and college student Anastasia Steele. Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca are producing alongside James. “Sam’s unique ability to gracefully showcase complex relationships dealing with love, emotion and sexual chemistry make her the ideal director to bring Christian and Anastasia’s relationship to life,” said De Luca. “EL James’ characters and vivid storytelling require a director who is willing to take risks and push the envelope where needed, and Sam is a natural fit.”
This is a hot job, and rumors have been flying about directors like Gus Van Sant, Susanne Bier and Joe Wright in the running, but Taylor-Johnson is a surprise choice. In addition to Nowhere Boy, which garnered her a pair of BAFTA nominations and an eventual husband in that film’s star Aaron Taylor-Johnson (of Kick-Ass fame), she had only directed the short film Love You More which was in Cannes in 2008. She also has ties to De Luca — the pair are in development on a film based on the Robert Goorlick novel A Reliable Wife which De Luca is also producing. Before landing the Nowhere Boy gig, Taylor-Johnson was a well-known photographer and visual artist whose work captured and explored issues of human sexuality.
Inside AMPAS Board Of Governors’ Meeting: Conflict Of Interest & Latino Damage Control (Joke About Being “Old White Guy Club”)
EXCLUSIVE: Few things in Hollywood are more secret than the Board Of Governors meetings of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. In fact, an insider tells me that, at one of the most recent conclaves, AMPAS President Hawk Koch ”went around the room asking if ‘anybody is friends with Nikki Finke?’ before beginning.” (Related: Hey, Academy, I Was Hiding Under The Rug) So let me tell you what was discussed at a recent session:
– Governors argued pro and con instituting a so-called ‘conflict of interest’ clause for themselves. At the present time, they do not have one. “This was specifically related to Academy Board Members receiving lucrative contracts from the Academy for things like behind-the-scenes footage, Oscars documentaries, etc. And they’re having first dibs on these contracts,” my insider tells me, clarifying, “The argument for adding a conflict of interest clause was that ‘it looks bad that we don’t have one’ and ’would be bad publicity if it got out’. The argument against a conflict of interest clause was this: that although it may look bad, every member on the board is talented and should be allowed to work for the Academy if the Academy deems them worthy and fit to do so.” The suggested solution was allowing governors to take a leave of absence from the board to work on projects which the Academy directly underwrites. I’m told one Governor in particular is shooting a behind-the-Oscars TV documentary for the Turner Classic Movies cable channel to air during the next awards season “and the board unanimously voted to allow him to be grandfathered in,” according to my source. No final decision was made.
– Governors at the board meeting discussed the failure by the 2013 Academy Awards’ In Memoriam segment to mention prominent Latina actress Lupe Ontiveros and how that snub ”may have damaged their appeal to Latin Americans,” my insider says. The governors decided ”that they need to reach out to minorities more often. And they joked about the Academy being an old white guy club and how that appears to other demographics.” Outrage erupted after the Mexican-American star with a career spanning four decades in movies/TV died in July at age 69 but was omitted from the tribute sequence. Latino viewers took their protests to Twitter and an open letter addressed to the Academy was written by Alex Nogales, CEO/president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. He noted that Ontiveros had applied for AMPAS membership and been denied, despite the support of Miguel Sandoval and Edward James Olmos. In April, members of the National Latino Media Council met with AMPAS bigwigs to discuss the dustup and find ways to increase Latino representation among Academy membership. Ontiveros is best known for Selena, As Good As It Gets, Real Women Have Curves and The Goonies but she made hundreds of films and TV shows.
– The Governors also debated allowing other mediums to be nominated for Academy Awards, not just theatrical releases but also New Media films. Michael Moore, who’s on the AMPAS Board, strenuously objected. He held up his iPhone and said, “If I’m watching Spartacus on this, I’m watching something. But it’s not a movie. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s not a movie.” Moore did suggest the Academy create a fund to financially help small market theaters
Oprah’s Lifeclass, featuring Oprah and life coach Iyanla Vanzant, returns to OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network‘s primetime lineup with a special 90-minute episode at 9 PM Sunday, July 7. In the first episode, Winfrey and Vanzant continue the conversation on the subject of fatherless sons in America. It will be followed by two new original episodes at 9 PM on July 14 and July 21 in which they’ll expand the conversation to address “Daddyless Daughters”. Iyanla: Fix My Life is back at 9 PM on July 27 with five new episodes that will address a wide range of topics impacting people from all walks of life. Welcome To Sweetie Pie’s returns Saturday, July 27 at 10 PM with Miss Robbie and her son, Tim, debating the shutdown of their original Sweetie Pie’s soul food restaurant location and Tim facing the reality of life as a single dad. Oprah: Where Are They Now?, returns Sunday July 28 at 10 PM. The new season features former Oprah show guests, newsmakers and celebrities and follow-ups.
Timing is everything. Shailene Woodley‘s Mary Jane may be out of Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, but she shows off the chops that won her and co-star Miles Teller a Special Jury Award at Sundance in the first trailer for James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now. Teller stars as a hard-partying high school senior who strikes up a relationship with the nice girl in school (Woodley). A24 releases the comedy-drama August 2. Check it out:
OddLot Entertainment and its EVP of Production and Development Linda McDonough have sealed a deal in which McDonough will produce feature films and television full time. McDonough will continue as a producer on OddLot’s upcoming tent-pole feature Ender’s Game which is being released domestically by Summit Entertainment on November 1, and several other projects are being planned. McDonough has been with OddLot for the past ten years, overseeing all aspects of the company’s production and development slate. She served as executive producer on several titles, including John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman and the Nicolas Winding Refn-helmed Drive. McDonough was a producer on From Prada To Nada, which was the flagship feature film for Pantelion, Lionsgate and Televisa’s joint venture distribution company. McDonough also served as an associate producer on the cult pic Green Street Hooligans. Prior to joining OddLot, McDonough served four years as VP Development at Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen’s company, Flower Films, and before that held positions at 1013 Productions (The X-Files) and 20th Century Fox Television.